News: Texas National Guard prepares their fight for freedom
Story by Pfc. Shannon Gatta
CHAPARRAL, N.M. - The 454th Engineer Company embarks on their final course of training at McGregor Base Camp in Chaparral, N.M., before they deploy to Afghanistan later this spring.
They wake up to blisteringly cold mornings, wind chasing at their feet as they run through the rough terrain in limited light. Sand gathers in their shoes as they trek onward, the ability to breathe becoming harder as the elevation climbs, muscles straining for that next step. They keep going. With these conditions, you would almost think that the soldiers of 454th Engineer Company, “Wolf Pack,” were already in Afghanistan. And yet, training continues here in the distant fringe of McGregor Base Camp, where the early mornings and late nights are frigid parallels to the calescent days.
Surrounded by towering mountains on all sides, the outdoors provide a prime metaphor for the bigger obstacles that lie ahead overseas. But for now, all that these gallant men and women can do is to prepare. In comparison to what they are doing, that is an understatement. Considering the man hours the leadership clocks in at the command post, the rigorous physical activity the route clearance platoons endure, and the ceaseless tasks the field maintenance team upholds, this company has proven time and time again their strength in numbers and dedication to their mission: to clear what you fear.
With all the proper equipment at their fingertips, the company utilizes every opportunity to readily strengthen themselves. Every day the soldiers are out there, ready to work, whether it be classes, physical conditioning, convoys, mounted and dismounted battle drills, night vision training, radio dry runs, live-fire exercises, or gunnery qualifications.
Sgt. 1st Class Leo Prichard (noncommissioned platoon leader of First Platoon) said, “We have been out here working our hardest, quickly and with urgency. I’m very proud of these soldiers.”
The unit has been well-versed in these courses since the beginning of the year, but here at McGregor is where the finer details will be worked out.
There have been more specializations in medical training such as making sure that for every soldier, their battle buddy’s wellness is a priority and that they are well equipped with the proper knowledge and equipment to perform combat lifesaving strategies.
“For me, my biggest goal is for the soldiers to understand their importance when it comes to them aiding the wounded in the battlefield and how serious the implications are.” Spc. Adrienne Outlaw (one of the combat medics deploying with the 454th unit) went on to say, “It takes a team effort and concentration on procedure to ensure the safety of soldiers needing medical care.”
More weapons systems have been added to the 454th arsenal. Consequently, the unit’s main concentration, in addition to refining marksmanship skills, is to make certain that every solider is qualified to operate all of the gunnery that falls under their command.
“Our marksmanship numbers stand to be overall proficient,” exclaimed Capt. Eric Leatherman, 454th Unit commander. “My goal is to ensure the fact that each one of these soldiers has experience and qualification with each and every one of these weapons.”
Communication is a main component in the unit’s effectiveness and is essential for their missions to be successful. Soldiers are concurrently practicing call signs, hand signals and use of equipment in order to be well rehearsed in theater. This exercise is not only tested in the classroom, but in all areas including dismounted improvised explosive device missions, vehicle convoys, and person-to-person contact.
“‘Shoot, move and communicate’ are part of the three pillars that, when combined, make a strong foundation for prosperity,” says Sgt. Michael Thorne, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Commo Dispatch. “Without one, the others will fall. It is important that all of the soldiers are familiarized with operations so they know how to work the radios at any time.”
The motor pool has been hard at work in recovery training. More and more soldiers are being added to the drivers qualification roster as training continues. Effective transportation along with recovery operations make up for the majority of their mission for route clearance. The vehicles need maintenance continually to reinforce their effectiveness and to ensure their protection of the soldiers operating inside their steel walls and bulletproof windows.
“The Field Maintenance Team has been hard at work and exceeding expectations continuously,” said Staff Sgt. Jennifer Ferguson (motor sergeant for the company), who also serves as a fire fighter in her civilian career.
Every unit has to have a firm backbone to be able support the objective. Operations serves as the reconnaissance for the training up to mission readiness. Their continuous reinforcement of the company’s needs, be they equipment, communication, route clearance outlining, or receiving intelligence and converting it to aid the task at hand, stands as an emblem for teamwork and how the 454th progresses as a whole. Supply aids every mission and caters to minor needs with the equipment while the armorer rectifies any hitches with the weapon systems; these are just a few of the components that keep the wheels turning. Considering the roads which this company is about to venture down and the endurance needed with each direction traveled, more than hope – resiliency – is the immutable component within those wheels.
As time continues to move on for these courageous men and women, so must they. Without fail and with volition in their hearts, each and every one of them serves a purpose. These soldiers have families to come back to and friends who support them. With the evident conviviality spread throughout them, no matter the level of experience, varying backgrounds, or reasons for serving, they are all here to make a difference for themselves and the country they serve proudly.